In 1892, with the battle over public water won by the northern residents of Cape Elizabeth (now South Portland), fire hydrants began to be installed and the residents of the populated neighborhoods started to meet to discuss how best to protect their homes. With equipment needed to access the fire hydrants and no town fire department, residents started to come up with plans to pool their resources and buy firefighting equipment.

This was accomplished through the formation of hose companies, which brought neighbors together to purchase the needed equipment, store it in a central location to their homes, and to be ready to respond in an emergency.

Captain Edwin “Ted” Palmer, shown in 1937 in the driver’s seat of the 1936 McCann truck that was used as Engine 3. Palmer was a popular member of the Pleasantdale Hose Company, serving as its captain from 1915 to 1943. South Portland Historical Society photo

The Pleasantdale neighborhood (roughly from Anthoine Street to Evans Street) was the third to form its own call company.

Companies had formed in Ferry Village and Willard in 1892. In April of 1893, a group of men led by Charles McDonald organized the Pleasantdale Hose Company No. 3. The company bought its first hose wagon in May, 1893. Very little other information has been documented about the first decade of this call company’s existence.

According to a history of the company, written by Arthur Johnson, by 1899 the company had acquired and assembled on their hose cart: “700 feet of hose, 2 axes, 2 torches, 1 hose lighter, and two common nozzles.”

The community had made a great improvement in their firefighting ability compared to their old reliance on a bucket brigade and/or waiting for a response from the fire department in Portland.

In 1904, the company finally proceeded with the documentation required to legally incorporate. This meant that the company now had by-laws and an annual meeting where members would elect a captain. The first official captain of the now-incorporated Pleasantdale Hose Company No. 3 was John E. Marden, who lived on Robinson Street.

Marden was a very well-known railroad man, having worked for many years as a traveling railroad car inspector. He would later become the general foreman of the car department at Rigby and then worked as the foreman at the car department at Union Station.

Ted Palmer was employed by the New England Shipbuilding Corporation as part of its Shipyard Fire Department. Palmer, ninth from the left, is shown in this 1945 photo with the rest of the third-shift crew of that fire company. South Portland Historical Society

Under Marden’s leadership, Pleasantdale Hose Company leased the stable under the old school house at Broadway and Elm Street (the site where Minuteman Press is now located) where they were able to store their hose cart in a central, easy-to-access location.

In those early years, when a fire broke out, the firefighters would enlist the aid of the closest available horse. That was often grocer Will Dyer’s horse. Dyer’s store was a few doors down on the corner of Broadway and Kelsey Street. If there were a fire, Dyer would unhitch his horse from his delivery wagon and allow the men to use the horse for the hose cart.

In 1915, the call company members elected a new captain, Edwin M. “Ted” Palmer. Palmer would go on to serve as captain for the next 28 years.

In 1918, with their original hose cart now 25 years old and in rough shape, company members raised money and bought a used hose cart for $75 from the Portland Fire Department.

In 1920, there was an increasing desire by the neighborhood to have their own fire station. Residents formed the Pleasantdale Improvement Company and sold shares in the new company for $10 each, with the proceeds intended to be used for the construction of a new hose house and firefighting equipment. The former Pleasantdale captain, John Marden, donated land on Robinson Street with the condition that a fire station be built upon it.

The Pleasantdale hose house on Robinson Street, as it looked in its early years. In 1977, the company bought an adjacent 15-foot-wide piece of land and built an addition to the right side of the station. The addition was needed to house a new pumper truck. South Portland Historical Society photo

Around the time that the new station was being constructed, the city of South Portland purchased a new fire truck from D.E. McCann’s Sons of Portland and placed it with the Pleasantdale Hose Company. Thetruck was motorized, creating the first Engine 3.

The Pleasantdale company members also embarked on their next goal – to build a ladder truck. Because there was no room at the hose house, the company temporarily stored their new Ladder 3 in Frank T. Palmer’s barn at 107 Elm St.

The construction of the new hose house on Robinson Street proceeded through 1921. The first meeting of the company in the new station was held on Jan. 2, 1922.

Over the years, there would be many replacements of engines and ladder trucks. Although firefighters were paid for calls, they would sometimes vote to donate this money toward any needed repairs, painting, or other items. The company members, and the ladies auxiliary, would also hold events or take part in other fundraising activities, as needed.

Pleasantdale Hose Company didn’t have all that many captains throughout its history, because a few of them served for such a long period of time.

While we are still working to formalize the list, we know that John Marden served as captain until 1915, then Ted Palmer served from 1915 to 1943. The next captain was just as popular; J. Walter Flink served as captain for 28 years, as well, from 1943 to 1971. There were three more captains, Forest “Duffy” Lewis, Larry Whitten and Bill Perry (1984-1990), who served until the last captain was elected, Richard Cotton, Jr., in 1990.

With their station in need of repairs and with a declining membership, the Pleasantdale Hose Company’s members (down to 16 at the time) agreed to close down the Robinson Street station in 2005 and move its equipment and operation to the South Portland Fire Department’s permanent station at Cash Corner.

As the company continued to gradually lose members and with Capt. Cotton reaching the fire department’s official retirement age in 2015, the decision was made to finally shut down the Pleasantdale call company.

Early records of this company have not been well documented. South Portland Historical Society is working with retired captain Richard Cotton to try to piece together this early history and to document the captains who served the company with their dates of service.

If anyone has information, photographs or artifacts to share related to this or any of South Portland’s early call companies, we encourage you to reach out to us. You can reach South Portland Historical Society by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by phone at 207-767-7299, by email at [email protected], or through our Facebook page.

The society maintains an online museum with over 10,000 historic images available for viewing, that can be found at www.sphistory.pastperfectonline.com.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]